Transparency, student data and modernization have been on the forefront of Oklahoma State Education Superintendent Janet Barresi's mind since she began her job in January 2011. Upon her arrival, Barresi saw the state's education technology was lagging behind, to say the least. Barresi implemented a new email and phone system, which previously had messages received through snail mail and without conference-call capabilities.
Accessing student data for district leaders was also a challenge given the state's outdated system. "The state had a data system that required a lot of effort but didn't yield usable data," says Barresi. "Districts were hiring extra personnel to input it. We decided to overhaul the longitudinal data system."
Barresi's efforts were stampeded in May when Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin signed a law mandating the restructuring of the state's technology infrastructure under the authority of the state's chief information officer, Alex Pettit. According to Barresi, she and Pettit teamed up to overhaul the IT infrastructure without losing sight of the education department's objectives. "My job is to focus on the students of the state," says Barresi. "Some had been concerned about losing control of the system that they were accustomed to, but when everyone focuses on their primary objective—students for us and technology for Pettit—you can stay focused and achieve your goals."
Communication with the public has also been a key issue, and the main complaint from local districts, Barresi says. Although the number has since dropped, up until two years ago, 15 percent of the state's 537 school districts did not have a Web site, according to a report by Oklahomans for Responsible Government. The state is now launching a pilot program with Google Apps for Education in addition to other open-source programs in order to help districts save money.
"The underpinning of all this is data," says Barresi. "If you want to deliver quality services, you can't do it without data."
The state department is coordinating its efforts with 77 local school districts through a new network to communicate how technology can assist in the classroom as the state moves toward the Common Core State Standards. Going forward, Barresi plans on establishing a statewide coalition to discuss how technology assists education.